Blessing God…… From Religion to Relationship

October 13, 2019- Sermon at Carillon Chapel Blessing God

 

Call to Worship: (from Psalms 66)
Leader: Shout joyfully to God, all you lands! Sing out the glory of His name;
make His praise glorious.
People: Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of
Your power Your enemies cringe before You.
Leader: All the earth will worship You and will sing to You; they will sing to
Your name.”
People: Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doings toward
mankind.
Leader: Oh, bless our God, you people, and make the voice of His praise to be
heard, who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to
slip.
People: For You, O God, have proved us; You have refined us, as silver is
refined. You brought us into the net; You placed distress on our backs.
Leader: You have allowed people to ride over our heads; we went through fire
and through water; but You brought us out into a well-watered place.

Sermon: Luke 17:11-19
11 As Jesus went to Jerusalem, He passed between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood at a distance. 13 They lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned with a loud voice glorifying God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus said, “Were not the ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then He said to him, “Rise, go your way. Your faith has made you whole.”

One of my goals in discipling the women that we receive at Titus 2 is to help them understand the Personhood of God and to relate to God as a Person, not a lofty and distant concept of some Higher Good. For women who have commonly been demeaned, abused, broken, who are swamped with guilt and shame, finding their own personhood has to be a part of that, too. They not only feel separated from God, but generally feel disconnected from their own selves. Having lived in self-inflicted isolation, with emotional torment, with a sense of self-defeat, they frequently have walled off the part of themselves that CAN connect with God and others and even with themselves. It is a common statement to hear, “I don’t even know who I am anymore.” They have come to think of themselves as what they have done….I’m a meth head. I’m an alcoholic. I’m a felon. I’m a substance abuser. They’ve heard themselves referred to in terms of their conduct so many times that their behavior has become their identity. They may get little respect from others, treated with suspicion or at times, even contempt.

But thankfully, they say, “we are not alone.”  There are plenty of others who have fallen to such depths and it is there, in the subculture where everyone around them is wearing the same color nametag labeling them as “those people,” standing apart at a distance from polite society and the “good people.” They cry out when the pain of isolation and marginalization overwhelms them, “Jesus, have pity on me!” The cry of desperation, of one who knows there is nothing more awaiting her lot in life except death unless a miracle happens.

The status and condition of lepers in Jesus’ day was exactly that. Marginalized, isolated, at a distance from the place where decent people hang out together and conduct their nice, clean, healthy lives. At least that is how it looks to the casual observer. But Jesus is no casual observer. He knows what is in the very soul of our outcasts in this Scripture today ….. the 10 lepers. In working in addiction recovery, I have heard more than once members of the addiction subculture referred to as the ”lepers of our society” today. They are the walking dead. Like the leprosy of that day, the problem of substance abuse seems to be like a contagion among us. Addiction, like the leprosy infection of Jesus’ day, does not respect rank or socio-economic status. It is an equal opportunity destroyer.

This picture of isolation, pushed aside to the margins by a condition that one didn’t see coming and didn’t choose and would surely never wish upon another, is a sad and hopeless one. But it is also a cautionary tale for all of us. While chemical addiction is an epidemic in our culture today, there is a more pervasive and pernicious condition which, like the leprosy of Christ’s day, threatens to leave all of us living among the “walking dead.” It is sin, the real equal opportunity addiction and life-limiting dysfunction.

Luke tells us that Jesus came along within the view of and earshot of the ten lepers. All they had to do was cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They knew who this person was and that he was a healer who had power and authority. All he had to do was say the word. They were desperately in need of a miracle and pleaded with him to grant them one. These individuals were in a village somewhere along the roadway between Galilee and Samaria….they had seen the crowds following Jesus and heard of his miracles. They knew what he could do…. restore sight or give sight to one born blind, cast out demons, make the lame walk, cure leprosy, all of it! They approached him in a humble and meek posture with all that they had left….a plea to the Master for pity. Something in their plea, their desperate condition, their distressed lives touched Jesus. And he told them to do what any person with any kind of skin lesion had to do…..submit themselves to the scrutiny and verdict of the priests. This was at a time in history when modern medicine was not yet formally institutionalized in this backwoods place. Physical ailments and healing were the domain of the temple priests, not professional medical practitioners. The priests examined the skin of sufferers, they provided the final say on what was wrong….whether it was a simple rash or the dreaded leprosy. But Jesus didn’t send them to the priests to BE healed, only for the healing to be confirmed, certified as real, and to receive from the priests their ticket back into society. The text says, “and as they went, they were cleansed.” No doubt when they arrived at the home of the priest or at the synogogue, wherever they would find the priest in this community, he would have done his duty under the law and examined them, giving them a clean bill of health, if warranted. And all ten received their ticket back into society, simply because they pleaded for his pity and were obedient to his instruction. The priests’ role was not in the healing itself; it was in simply to diagnose the problem and in this case, to confirm that healing had occurred. Healing came from God. Here is this rabbi, whose reputation they surely knew. They had stood in his presence. They had petitioned him. They had heard his directive to follow the tradition of the community to go before the priests to be cleared. They obeyed, expecting that to happen. And it did.

One of the men, a Samaritan….a reviled half breed to most Jews, already outcast because of the impurity of his mixed ethnicity, but now cast out by this scourge of leprosy, too….was among the ten. He was simply part of the crowd of lepers, their common misery binding them to one another. By association with them, he made the choice to follow the instructions and in doing so, gained the miracle cure. The text says, “ One of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned with a loud voice glorifying God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan.”
When the man saw that he was healed, he returned, fell on his face, glorifying God and giving Jesus thanks. He did not require the deliberation of the priests to know that he was healed. He experienced the healing and knew where it came from. He also didn’t need a ticket back into the Jewish social order that the priest’s clean bill of health would give. After all, he was a Samaritan. He would never belong to the Jewish society or be welcomed in the temple. His trust was in the Healer that he experienced, not in the tradition of the law of the Jews or their reasoning.

17 Jesus said, “Were not the ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then He said to him, “Rise, go your way. Your faith has made you whole.” In his questions to the Samaritan what point is Jesus making? That only 1 in 10 returns and gives thanks and glory to God for the miracle received? That the other nine took their healing for granted and are being criticized by Christ for not coming back to say thank you? Or is it something else? What is the point of this exchange? The Samaritan among them got something more….he got his spiritual eyes opened to the truth of the identity of the one true God. Praise and gratitude to God for what he has done for us is the sign of a deeper soul work being done, the sufferer’s attention has been directed from the miraculous act of healing to the person and power of the Healer…. A leper healed by the word of the Master would have not only a physical restoration and a ticket back into community, but a profound deeper spiritual restoration that gives one the eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of the One true God and brings relationship with God himself.
The Samaritan in our story got cleansed of leprosy….a miracle of healing the body. But his miracle compelled him to do more, to want more….to return and glorify God and give thanks. He returned and bowed down before Jesus. His eyes were opened to the reality that Jesus WAS THE MESSIAH…. THE INCARNATE GOD. And he received a second blessing. His soul was cleansed, too.
In Matthew 16 we read that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They answered “ “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Jesus Christ said that God had revealed the true identity of Jesus to Simon Peter.

When Jesus cast out demons in Capernaum, the spirits witnessed to his true identity so that he had to tell them to keep silent. Miracles of healing have a way of pointing to the truth of the Healing Lord for the ones who receive them. Having faith based on having heard someone else’s testimony and being obedient to follow the prescription may or may not bring the healing cure. But when the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth of the name, power and authority of the Healer within the very heart of the afflicted one who is obedient in complying with the prescription given by the physician, who is merely the servant of the True Healer, the Great Physician, then the depth of one’s faith is demonstrated and the power of that faith makes them not only healed physically, but cleansed spiritually….in other words, “made WHOLE.”

A healing cure is half the battle and that’s all that most of us know to ask for, a ticket back into the life we had. If obedience will bring health and belonging to community again, we’ll obey and trust the cure. True faith reveals the Healer, as well –opens one’s eyes to the Christ- and brings further, deeper cleansing of the soul, as well, and that is the other half. Together, through the healing cure outwardly that is visible and the cleansing cure inwardly that is not visible, one is made “whole”…..and gets the full blessing of new life in Christ. The healing cure arises from obedience and purifies and saves the body. True Healing arises from intimate knowledge of the source of salvation, praising and giving thanks for the One who both cleanses and purifies one’s innermost soul with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus came not just to comfort those who seek a healing miracle cure that comes through obedience to keeping the letter of the physician’s instruction, as the Jews did…that is salvation by following the Law. People are blinded by their own desire to belong. They desire the blessing of a healing cure, to be restored to fellowship, so they follow the Law. But Jesus said he came for more than that.

Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled?”

What is Jesus saying here? Is it possible there are there those in whom the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit is already kindled without having known Jesus? The Old Testament says of Abram, Moses, and others that they believed and were obedient and “it was counted as righteousness unto them.” What is the hallmark character of one that is righteous? Obedience that arises out of believing and becoming holy like God through a relationship with God. Jesus, in his earthly ministry said, if that is already present, what do I desire? That people would recognize him, that he has been sent by God, and know that he and the Father are one. If a person already knows and honors the One True God, when Jesus comes, that person will hear the truth of Jesus’ message and will know him because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Each points to and confirms the other’s identity. It is a holy, magnificent communion of the Spirit of God with the spirit of a person that begins to subordinate the soul of the person to the Holy Spirit’s refining work within and leads to the outward expression of the life of Christ in the world through the body of the individual. If one already has life through belonging to God and behaving in a manner that evidences the fruit of the Holy Spirit in her life, then coming to know Jesus will be natural and welcomed and will lead to becoming more and more like God as exemplified in the life of Christ.

John 10:10 “ I came that they may have life (freedom from the penalty of death from sin), and may have it abundantly (freedom from the power of sin.)

Mark 2:16-17 “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Who are the righteous? Those in whom there is already belief in God and holiness that comes from obeying and becoming like God……. A Relationship. But for those who viewed righteousness as merely belonging to the people of God…being a Jew.. and behaving obediently through following the Law, they were spiritually blind to the truth of Jesus Christ’s identity and message. Baptism for them was merely a ritual, like the daily bathing of the Essenes and other Jews who kept the cleanliness laws.

But for those who knew Jesus and were baptized with the fire of the Spirit….. they took baptism as a high and holy sign of the fullness of life in Christ….. an outward and visible sign of an inward grace and transformation.

In receiving the grateful leper’s praise and worship Jesus acknowledges that not only has his physical illness been healed, a deeper soul cleansing healing has occurred that has revealed Christ’s true nature as the Incarnate God. Obedience to obtain healing miracles that affect the body and don’t lead to changed lives are only half measures…. The very soul must be cleansed and saved, as well. And that is only accomplished by the Holy Spirit of God opening one’s eyes to the truth of the identity, authority, and power of the Healer leading to relationship with the Healer so that one’s entire life is totally transformed from the inside out.

God may give a healing miracle cure that will bring comfort, relief and peace. But only the miracle cure of wholeness that comes from having the Holy Spirit’s cleansing work within, as well, creating relationship with Christ and the fire of passion to worship God, purifies one’s soul and makes one “whole.”

Luke, tells us that John the Baptist preached repentance and baptized with water. “ I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh….. he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire: The first work of baptism is a response to recognizing that one is sick and in need of the healing power of God. It saves the body from the wrath of sin that is death. It gives us our ticket into community…..into heaven. The second work of baptism brings with it the truth of Jesus Christ’s identity as the divine, incarnate God and the fire within our hearts to worship him and glorify his name. With that cleansing truth, revealed by the Holy Spirit, comes purification of the heart and complete refining, transformation from the inside out. It is the sanctifying work of the Spirit of God within us and makes us hunger and thirst to be with and know Christ more intimately, to even become molded into the likeness of Christ.

Jesus used parables. He taught the Word and he gave examples the people would understand. Their ability to see and hear the truth of the stories….to relate to the Word….. was a thermometer…..It showed the condition of their hearts. Not to Jesus, because he already knew. But to those around them. Was there knowledge of the Word? Was there understanding? Was there obedience? Did that bring recognition of the Source of the healing and lead to praising and thanking the One True God and to the receivers’ ability to go forward in peace, to go and sin no more, to actually live into the fruit of the Spirit present in their lives? Was there a change, not just outwardly from healing, but inwardly from a cleansing of the soul and the person being made whole?

The Psalmist David speaks of these two miracles – healing and cleansing to wholeness in our call to worship, Psalm 66:

Oh, bless our God, you people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard,
who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to slip.
For You, O God, have proved us; You have refined us, as silver is refined.
We went through fire and through water; but You brought us out into a well-watered place.
Some desire only the healing that allows them to belong and behave in obedience with the Law.
Others recognize that they can have something more, a relationship- believing and becoming one with the Spirit as their spirit and soul is cleansed.

As we come to communion, let us make it a special moment that will bless God, not just us. I like to think that some of us are conscious of doing that today, that we not only belong to the family of God and behave in keeping with our baptism but that we also are believing and becoming more and more like the person, power, and authority of Christ through Communion. Amen.

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